Without the traditional summer break during which to carry out annual renovations, keeping the pitch at Hampden Park in perfect condition relies on the use of quick–to–establish cultivars and a fast–acting, reliable and predictable soil nutrient programme.
As well as hosting approximately 55 football fixtures per year – from Queen’s Park FC home games, to internationals, friendlies, League Cup, Scottish Cup, Youth Cup and corporate matches – the pitch at Hampden Park, Scotland’s National Stadium, also hosts a series of A–list music concerts each summer. Therefore, as well as being able to stand up to the rigours of a heavily laden fixture list, the playing surface also has to contend with being covered by a layer of semi–transparent plastic tiles and aluminium stage panels which protect the pitch for periods of up to 10 consecutive days during the pop concert season.
“That’s a severe amount of stress for any pitch to cope with,” explains Head Groundsman, Stephen Bache “but, by working hard all year to keep the grass as healthy and vigorous as possible, it usually only takes a couple of weeks for the sward to bounce back to full health after each concert.”
There are times, however, when the damage caused by a long run of concerts or series of fixtures held in particularly wet conditions, that the pitch requires additional remedial action to be carried out.
“No matter how good a job we do or how healthy the sward is, there’s only a certain amount of abuse the grass can cope with,” Stephen continues. “Because our pitch is in use 12 months of the year, we don’t have the luxury of a 6–8 week period between seasons to grow a new pitch in from seed. Instead, if absolutely necessary, we’ll build a re–turf of the entire playing surface in to our calendar. Beyond that, and given the demands on the surface, we only ever have time to scarify the surface before top–dressing and over–seeding with a mixture of perennial ryegrass cultivars.”
As Scotland’s National Stadium, the pitch at Hampden Park comes under regular scrutiny from domestic and international TV audiences. “Like many other top flight clubs, that means we have to maintain a deep green colour throughout the year, which can be particularly tricky during the deep winter months, especially as we don’t have any grow lamps and parts of the pitch don’t receive any direct sunlight from the end of October until mid–February.”
Keeping the pitch looking green and healthy therefore comes down to the choice of cultivars grown and how the pitch is fed.
“We’ve been over–seeding and renovating with Germinal’s A20 Premier Ryesport mixture for the past 10 years and have recently started to feed the pitch using an homogenous compound granular fertiliser,” Stephen explains. “Each month we apply 25g/m2 of Fertilis Swing which provides 14–6–17 NPK plus 2% MgO and trace elements.
“Our under–soil heating system lets us over–seed any worn or damaged areas throughout the winter and enables the established sward, plus any recently sown seed, to make full use of the fertiliser irrespective of the time of year. We’ve noticed, since switching to Fertilis Swing, that the grass reacts quickly and predictably to each fertiliser application by turning a darker, healthier–looking shade of green within a couple of days. That makes it easy for us to plan each application to coincide with major matches, such as international fixtures or league and cup finals, and enables us to present the pitch in the best possible condition throughout the year.
Fertilis Swing also helps to prevent foliar diseases, thanks to the inclusion of Bacillus subtilis E4–CDX which increases resistance to soil–borne fungal diseases.
“The pitch at Hampden is fully enclosed by the stadium’s stands which means the grass can remain damp and shaded for weeks at a time,” explains Alistair Eccles, Germinal’s FACTS qualified Technical Sales Representative for Scotland and North East England. “That creates the perfect conditions for diseases such as leaf spot to thrive. The Bacillus subtilis in Fertilis Swing colonises the roots and shoots of new plants as they germinate and helps to suppress fungal disease organisms such as phytophthora, pythium, rhizoctonia, fusarium and peronospora. If used regularly, Fertilis Swing negates the need for expensive, curative fungicides to be applied.
“Fertilis Swing also provides the full spectrum of nutrients and trace elements required by new seedlings to enable them to compete with, and thrive in, the established turf sward. That makes managing the pitch easier and helps the playing surface to recover more quickly from the damaged caused by summer concerts and a full winter of fixtures.”